Cracker Barrel's on a Big, Big Roll Despite Recession

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Of all the chain restaurants that cater to travelers along America's interstates, Cracker Barrel has always been different.

The 600-outlet company based in Lebanon, Tenn., isn't exactly fast food. The pace isn't slow, but if you plan to hit one while road-tripping, you can expect to sit a spell. And you may have to wait for a table, though the company thoughtfully provides a retail store full of Americana tchotchkes to browse while you wait.

Cracker Barrel is also something of a guilty pleasure amongst some foodies. The biscuits are always good, they serve breakfast all day, and entrees like chicken and dumplings and meatloaf are surprisingly good. Sure, it would be better to go to a small local meat-and-three, but they're not always nearby, and they tend to close early. (I guess traditional Southerners didn't eat dinner after 7 p.m.)

But despite Cracker Barrel's clear popularity, I was pretty shocked by reports that in the third quarter, Cracker Barrel's profits were up 20 percent over the previous year. That has to put our own homegrown chain in the category of restaurant blockbuster, a company that laughs in the face of a gloomy economy.

How did Cracker Barrel do it? Well, we're told the company cut its spending on food, salaries and benefits, more than compensating for a paltry 2 percent rise in sales.

Cracker Barrel tends to be a divisive topic, even setting aside allegations of racial discrimination or the fact that it earned a score of just 15 out of 100 in terms of employer fairness toward gay people, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Anybody want to speak for or against Cracker Barrel?

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